September Journal


Tuesday, 27 January 2009



Journal-ish kind of thing

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Welcome to my online journal of my adventures.  This starts a bit into the season.  I arrived in Antarctica on 27 August.  The journal didn't start right away since I was trying to figure out what to do.  Before the entries here I was trying to email stuff to people on my mailing list.  But, the slow internet in McMurdo made it very cumbersome so I decided that a website would be a good way to communicate.  I could also let the computer upload slowly to the sight while I slept!  So here it is....


08 Sept.  Had a great day today.  Managed to go with the divers to be a dive tender or assistant.  Took a short ride out onto the sea ice to one of their dive shacks.   A dive shack is much like an ice fishing shack, a small hut with a hole in the floor to access a hole in the ice to dive through.  We assisted the divers get rigged up and basically hung out waiting for them to surface.  Well, about 10 minutes before their time was up we had a visitor.

A Weddell Seal showed up to take in some of our fresh air.

The only problem was that he didn't look like he was going to go away to soon and the divers were running out of air. I asked him kindly to clear the hole for the other mammals and after snorting at me he went away.  So our frosty divers were able to come back to the warm hut.

I think I know what job I want next..... ;)

11 Sept. Another installment of what the hell am I doing.  We had quite a day yesterday.  The engine crew went out to daily inspections and found a large air leak in the engines braking system.  It took a few hours to get a mechanic to show up and tell us he couldn't fix it at the station.  we then tried to get our second engine thawed out to use.  now when I say thawed out in Antarctica that usually means finding it under the snowdrifts, digging it out and trying to bring it up to freezing temperature. 

luckily the second engine was not covered in snow but it was truly frozen.  When we drove it the brake system was making the most amazing sounds not unlike some very large animal being impaled with a jagged sharp stick.  We managed to get it inside the bay.  The fine blowing snow had worked its way into everything!  All the compartments and the pump area were filled with snow.  Luckily the VMF (vehicle maintenance facility) or Heavy Shop called and they had room and the parts for fix the engine.  We took this chance to try and thaw out engine 2 before putting it back into deep freeze (the melting snow now would be ice and very hard to deal with.  so we tried a diesel heater

well it kind of worked got most of the pump area cleaned out.  Engine 1 was soon back up and ready so we restowed Engine 2 and hopefully wont have to mess with it until it warms up.  By warm up I mean get on the other side of ZERO.


13 Sept.  Saturday usually is a down day back in the world but here we have a 6 day work week.  Sundays are the only day off for most of the station.  This excludes the Galley folks, Firehouse and few other departments.  Today was fairly calm everyone is quite sluggish.  The creeping crud has taken its toll on everyone's energy level.  Only thing real interesting I can write about is one of the strange requests we get here in the Fire Dept.  CRACK SPACKLING.  I am coining this term for when we fill cracks in the sea ice.  At this time of the year they set up the sea ice runway.  A complete airport on the ocean!  To get to the runway you must cross what is called the "transition".  This is where the ice meets the land.  It gets kind of torn up by the tides and the drifting of the ice.  They normally have the heavy equipment operators lay hose lines and spray the area with water to build up the ice to strengthen the transition.  Since we have the largest water tanker truck, we help out when we can by driving out to fill in the Big John crack (named for a loader driver that died when his truck broke through the ice in the area).




16 Sept. The weather today was very nice. No wind and only -17F.  So I decide its a good day for a hike.  I decided to hike up our local landmark OB Hill (OB for Observation). OB Hill form Mac Town At this time of year you have to check out with the firehouse and submit a foot plan to leave town.  Not a problem.  The hike was a bit strenuous since I am just getting over a touch of the crud so I was a bit winded.  I took some nice leisurely breaks to take in the scene and oh what at scene it is.  You can see McMurdo in its entirety. McMurdo Form OB Hill From the top you have a good view of The NZ Scott base and can see runway being built out on the sea ice.Looking out to Ice Runway  There is a cross on top of OB Hill for Capt. Scott and the men that died on their way back from the south pole in 1912.  The cross has been there since Jan. 1913.  The top was quite windy.  the wind made it hard to hang out for to long.  I thought my teeth were going to freeze if I smiled to long.  On my way down I ran into a few of my B-shift firefighters heading up the hill so I joined them and re-summited.  Me and Scotts CrossThey were up there to go sliding down the chute.  If you look at the OB hill from town picture you can see a straight line of rocks on the left side.  behind hose rocks is aNy Teess iss sossen snow chute like area.  They all linked up in a line holding onto each others feet and slid down.  I watched and soon was treated with a real live version of the "Agony of Defeat" footage.  Snow flying and black pants over red jackets.  Well, they all survived.  I scrambled down the hill and we found some shorter less death causing hills to go body skiing.  Fun and cold.  My estimated time of return on my foot plan quickly arrived and I shuffled back to the firehouse to check in and warm-up.  shower, dinner and a movie about Shackelton is the fare for tonight...


19 Sept.  Not much going on the last few days.  The bowling alleyMostly just the trudgery of work and a bit of the old creeping crud to take the wind out of my sails a bit.  tonight was "Bumble Bowling"  If I hadn't told yall before but we have a bowling alley here.  It is a two lane bowling alley built along time ago.  I guess the Brunswick company offered to replace it with a new computerized bowling alley so they can put this one in their museum.  This was turned down because even though the lanes are warped the manual resetting equipment can be fixed here with what tools we have.  If we had a new fangled computer system it would be broke most of the time.  Well back to the bumbling bowlers.  The Bumble teamBumble bowling is a team sport and the twist is that each frame is bowled a different way:

The team: Josh Card, Me, Mark Hesselman, John Theo(something). (sorry can't spell his last name but its Greek)

The throws by frame number and the associated pic

  1. kicking a soccer ball

  2. opposite hand

  3. using a push broom

  4. hopping on one foot

  5. two balls at once

  6. spin around 10 times then bowl

  7. using the Fur backed mittens

  8. reverse granny shot

  9. hopping on one foot

  10. from the carpet (adds about 10 feet to the shot)


Opposite hand bowling


Push Broom Bowling





Furbacked Mitten bowling


25 Sept.  In an effort to get all our crews up to standards we have been putting them through a rigorous Apparatus Driver/Operator course.  Neel Pahl, one of the off going winter over firefighters has put on a very impressive D/O class.  because of time constraints this 40-60 hour course has been trimmed down to a crash 20 hours of classroom with a lot of homework for the students.  This evening we took the students out after dinner for some driver practice. Sorry the pictures are a bit fuzzy but with the long exposure low light setting on my camera and the howling wind made it very hard to keep the camera still.  The wind was rocking my truck around quite a bit.  They set up the serpentine and a alley dock simulations for practice with Engine 1 and Tanker 3.  I don't think they could have picked a windier spot anywhere on this continent.  The winds were howling though the pass and making it very tough to see the cones of the simulation.  They had to scavenge extra weights for the cones to keep then upright.  Everyone did very well despite the weather.  Unfortunately some of the students had a tough time passing the drive test with out the wind and blowing snow.

27 Sept.  The weather is warming up quite a bit.  It has gotten warm enough to snow.  Not much interesting is going on recently.  The creeping crud finally got a hold of my lungs and I broke down and went to medical for antibiotics and a couple of days off of work.  I feel kind of embarrassed about taking time off of work if I can still walk and goto the galley to take meals but I guess that's what ya got to do.  Also the cough pill they gave me make napping very easy at any time of day.  Hopefully Ill be able to stay up long enough to get some laundry done.


30 Sept.  The first flight in for the summer season.  This is what we call the "mainbody" arrival.  This marks the official opening of the summer season here in McMurdo.  The south pole base still has to wait just shy of a month for the regular flights to start. Station 2 is a small portable fire station on skis!  For you R/M guys it is basically a doublewide station 74!  I have worked in stations on wheels (or blocks) but now I get one on skis!  Right now Station 2 is at the Ice runway about 1-2 miles out from McMurdo on the sea Ice.  Yep an airport on the ocean.  Kind of like Tokyo's except ours isn't sinking.  The sea ice is about 14 feet thick so plenty strong enough to put an airport on and bring in some of the largest cargo aircraft we can hire.  Right now we are landing C-141's and C-17's.  In a couple of weeks the Air National Guard will start bringing their C-130s down for the season.  I get to be the "Follow Me" truck.  This is the truck that leads the aircraft to their parking spot on the apron of the airport.  Basically very easy, drive straight and turn hard to the left on the orange line and then get out of the way.  It sure is strange to see a huge aircraft in your rear view mirror. 

Sea ice runway from OB Hill






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